Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

You Review: Fourth of July Creek – Smith Henderson

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Reviewed by Didi Groenhoff

Even though he often feels powerless and is certainly not always welcome, social worker Pete gives his all to help deprived children and their parents in a small town in Montana. This is the real America, where for many people life is a struggle. Pete sees it all, and tries to reach out. But he’s not entirely the hero he seems to be. In his personal life he meets the same struggles as the people he works with. Despite being a lonesome man that spends many of his evenings seeking company in bars, Pete tries to break with his family which he finds stifling. And then there’s his daughter Rachel, who he hardly ever sees because she is living with her mother. Leaving his personal problems untouched Pete acts only to help people he hardly knows and is not personally attached to. And what interesting people they are…

The story is brilliantly told. Using only a few words Smith Henderson sets each scene in such a way that you virtually see it happen in front of your very eyes. Reading this book will be a source of jealousy for everyone that once tried to write himself.

But the best thing about Fourth of July Creek is not the catching story or the amazing style. The most fascinating accomplishment is that Smith Henderson succeeds in tying this narrative of ordinary people living in the rough Montana mountain lands to big American themes like Freedom and Religion. In between the lines he discusses the complicated relationship between the Citizens and their State, and the question of who bears what responsibilities and rights. Henderson forces us to think about the foundations of the USA, where they led to success and where they resulted in failure. Placing the story in the late 70’s and early 80’s shows us that what we consider to be problems of our time might not be quite that. Touching on all these big subjects does not do any harm to the narrative, flooding my brain with thoughts and considerations and leaving me truly astounded after finishing.

This book is not a critique on the American way of life, nor does it celebrate it. It sets you thinking. Just like a good book should.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook available of Fourth of July Creek.

Store Bits: Staff Choices

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

A new round of Staff Choices of both new and old books. Happy reading!

The Girl With All The Gifts – M. R. Carey
Recommended by JeroenW

“Zombies have been done to death (pun intended), and this might easily slip under your radar as Just-Another-Zombie-Book, and to be fair, to a certain extent it is. But this just happens to be a really well-written one, with well-fleshed-out characters, some nice twists and a great ending. Highly recommended for anyone looking for an exciting and satisfying read.”

Foreign Fruit – Jojo Moyes
Recommended by Simone

“Daisy and Celia are raised as sisters, in a very protective environment, when they are suddenly confronted with the new owners of the luxurious villa in their small town. Artistic people are “not to mix with”, however, Daisy and Celia cannot stay away.
When Celia brings home her new beau, the son of a rich man who imports exotic fruits, Daisy falls head over heels in love with him, and the complications begin.
Halfway through the book the story jumps forward in time, and page by page, the two storylines become one.
A wonderful and intriguing read.”

The Thousand Names – Django Wexler
Recommended by Tiemen

“There is a distinct possibility after reading this book you will yell ‘Form square!’ at random people in public.
This is a fun and exciting read. Instead of the same old, same old medieval fantasy setting this is so called Musket fantasy; a story deeply inspired by the age of the Napoleonic Wars.
And even though this is fantasy, Wexler has grounded it in a firm foundation of military history and knowledge. Wexler knows his musket from his bayonet and the way he portrays how an army in the Napoleonic age would function is done in a marvelous and interesting way.
Add in a few heartpounding battles – FORM SQUARE! – a Holmes & Watsonesque relationship between the commander and his second-in-command, a mystery about a magical artifact and you get one very entertaining and thrilling read.”

Every Day is for the Thief – Teju Cole
Recommended by Renate

“Previously only published in Nigeria (2007), but now
available for everyone. Yes!

This is a sad and funny book about going home
and trying to make sense of the journey and yourself and
the world along the way.

Cole’s prose is sensual and vivid and clear”

Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II – Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii
Recommended by Marten

“Behind the somewhat offensive title lies a truly a incredible body of work. These color photographs have been taken between 99 and a 110 years ago. The encounter with people and the world of more then a century ago has never seem more vivid! The silence of a world without automobiles more condemning!”

You Review a Local Author: The Anatomy Lesson – Nina Siegal

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Reviewed by Richard Metcalf

Set in 16th century Amsterdam, this highly enjoyable historical novel centers around the genesis of the Rembrandt painting from which it takes its name, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. The cast of compelling characters includes Rembrandt himself, as well as the two principal human subjects of the painting – the respected citizen Dr Tulp, and the common criminal Adriaen Adriaenszoon (alias ‘Aris the Kid’), whose mortal remains the good doctor is shown dissecting before a learned audience.

Through this choice of characters, the author evokes the various strata of society in the Dutch Golden Age, and illustrates how – as an artist – Rembrandt is able to navigate between the hierarchies, in the process capturing the heart of the human condition in his paintings.

The Anatomy Lesson is written largely in the first person, using the voices of several different characters, including a present-day conservator working to restore the painting, and the philosopher Rene Descartes, a contemporary of Rembrandt who is known to have visited Amsterdam at around this time. In the reality of the novel at least, Descartes is present at the dissection, and he muses in imagined correspondence on the significance which the work of Tulp and his contemporary physicians might have had for our understanding of the relationship between our physical bodies and our spiritual selves.

It’s not all philosophy and art, however, as the writing is bound by large seams of romance and humor provided by two purely imagined characters: Flora, devoted wife of Aris; and the aptly named Jan Fetchet, who sources the body for Tulp and instigates probably the book’s only laugh-out-loud moment with an absurd parody of a Monty Python sketch (hopefully that’s a teaser, folks, not a spoiler).

The novel is at its most convincing and moving when the author lets rip with her knowledge and experience of fine art, as her fiercely-imagined Rembrandt speaks of his work and of the forces which drive him to paint.

Nina Siegal has produced an entertaining and thought-provoking novel, interlacing serious themes – there are even some meta-textual nods and winks to the subject of (re)writing/painting history – with a pacey, colourful narrative.  In short, well worth a read.

Reviewed by Linda Radwan

The idea of The Anatomy Lesson alone seemed marvelous. When I started reading it, I was already fascinated by the introduction and could not wait to read more. I was moved by the parts in which Aris Kindt was waiting for his execution, I felt like I was there with him and I felt anxious and scared all at once. I pitied Flora but I also admired her for her strength to carry on. I was truly impressed during her conversation with Rembrandt and in that scene I saw how both characters grew. I loved how Rembrandt changed his perspective and how that affected the final painting.

I enjoyed the writing techniques that were used: the name description of each chapter such as ‘The Body’ which was an extraordinary way of bringing the different perspectives into light, the combination of the narrator’s part (at the beginning and at the end of the book) and the story told by the characters themselves (especially when Rembrandt came into view and I could read what was on his mind). The way the characters are described makes them real and it makes the story as real as any historical event.

I do feel like you have to be an art lover to understand some things, especially the detailed descriptions of the painting mentioned in the conservator’s notes.

If art and history is what you love then this book is the perfect combination and it is definitely worth reading. It is clear that Nina Siegal has done a great deal of research to set up such perfect scenes and characters. Well done!

You Review a Local Author: Books with an orange connection, reviewed by ABC customers.

Nina Siegal lives in Amsterdam and is managing editor of Flow Magazine International.

You Review: Be Safe, I Love You – Cara Hoffman

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Reviewed by Tess van Brummelen

Due to an absent mother and a father struggling with depression, Lauren has always been her younger brother’s caregiver. As a mother, sister and friend to him, their bond is unbreakable. To be able to provide even better for the family, Lauren enlists in the army. Back home again on leave, Lauren has trouble adjusting to the changes her old life has undergone, including her brother Danny, who’s suddenly all grown up. In a spur of the moment decision, Lauren takes Danny to the cold, remote woods of Canada midwinter, where she desperately tries to teach him survival skills. Since her return though, Lauren has been acting differently, to the point of scary, and Danny starts to wonder if she’s still the same person she was before Iraq.

“And there in the rising heat and rush and pop of whole towns delicately changing into white and orange petals thin as a ghost’s tattered shawl, they might at last understand what that vow you took really means. What it means to be a guardian of freedom. To deploy, engage, and destroy.” -p.161/162

The closer to the end, the more suspense. What is Lauren trying to accomplish with Danny up north? Will companionship and love ultimately outweigh violence and hate?

“Open your eyes. Open your eyes. It’s beautiful here.” -p.282

Be Safe I Love You is a novel about the soldiers that never come home and the ones that do. A novel about the traumatising effects of war. A novel about women warriors at home and on the front lines.

Cara Hoffman wrote her book as an elegy for her brother ‘who taught me to survive the things he taught me, and for whom I am still waiting to come home’. Hoffman’s depiction of the lives of military families feels raw and personal. She certainly succeeds in shining a tiny, burning light on a situation that’s important yet unknown to many. The storyline does lack some depth and speed here and there, which distanced me from the characters and plot.

A unique and interesting bonus is the information on music Cara Hoffman, who studied classical voice, has woven into the story.

“The lights of the rig burned and bled to white, and before she closed her eyes, she could see the dunes out in the distance. Placid and silent and stretching on forever.” -p.4

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

You Review: The Steady Running of the Hour – Justin Go

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Reviewed by Patty Friedrichs

Tristan Campbell receives a mysterious message from a firm of solicitors: if he can prove he is the beneficiary to a decades-old will, the money will be his. It is imperative he travel to London from his native California immediately to prepare for his quest. So begins The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. The story switches from the present day to the First World War and the adventures of testator Ashley Walsingham. He meets Imogen Soames-Andersson while he’s on leave and they spend a few perfect, romantic days together before Ashley is sent back to the Front. Bafflingly, he decides to leave his estate to this girl he has only known for a short while. Even more bafflingly, she never claims the estate after Ashley’s death in 1924 from a mountaineering accident. She does not come forward and nothing is heard from her again. In a race against time, Tristan must piece together their histories in order to find out what happened to this mystery woman and his own place in their lives.

This tantalizing premise promises a cracking adventure of money, war, love, passion, and climbing Everest simply because it is there. But the book quickly becomes a bit of a bore, because unfortunately Justin Go crams it with immaculately researched history and geography but no real people. The characters are flat; they are caricatures of gentlemen explorers and feisty young suffragettes; effortlessly stylish French girls and Scandinavians who drink themselves silly to keep warm, whereas Tristan comes across as a dull fratboy, not a lonely lost soul searching for meaning.

Because Justin Go chose to focus more on the intertwining stories and not on the characters living them, The Steady Running of the Hour is little more than an elaborate 500-page Wikipedia entry about London during the Great War and Everest in the 1920s.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

More of Patty’s thoughts about books, and many other things besides, can be read on Twitter: @voltaires_vice.

There’s an ebook of The Steady Running of the Hour available here.